AT Engine Controls’ Andrea Hough: From apprentice to owner

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From starting an apprenticeship as a school leaver at 16 to becoming a business co-owner, AT Engine Controls’ Andrea Hough knows that manufacturing offers a wide variety of paths to the top. Along the way, she took a path few women had taken. Oh, and she is an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Andrea began her career by forgoing university for a five-year apprenticeship with a manufacturer that included training in administrative tasks as well as on the shop floor. In an emblematic career move, Andrea grasped the opportunity to become a production planner – overseeing how to plan production with the right people and products on the floor at the right time. She took the role even though she wasn’t sure exactly what the role entailed initially, and eventually she became supervisor of the production planning team.

This is one of the most common pieces of advice she gives young women, no matter what career they’re interested in. She says, “Take every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be limited by preconceptions of where you’re going, what’s going to happen or what you can do.”

When the company was sold in the mid-1990s, Andrea became operations manager of two manufacturing sites.

ATEC

Initially, the new company management was wary of a woman taking a role traditionally held by a man. Andrea explains, “It was a difficult stage of my career. I really had to convince them that I knew what I was doing and how the shop floor worked.”

Andrea continued to break down barriers outside the company as well, saying, “When I went with the other managers to exhibitions and industry events, I was often mistaken for their PA or admin. I had to work to be recognised as a business leader.”

During a corporate restructuring in 2004, Andrea took the opportunity (along with her business partner) to buy part of the company and set up AT Engine Controls Limited with two sites initially, one in Manchester and the other in the Naval Base in Portsmouth. Today, the company is based in Manchester and still going strong in its niche market producing products for everything from helicopters to oil rigs.

Andrea wants to encourage more young women to enter engineering and manufacturing by participating in the Challenging Stereotypes program in Manchester. She visits schools to talk to girls about her career and what they can achieve. She highlights the many types of careers from IT to operations to finance to HR that are available in manufacturing.

“In manufacturing, it’s one of the fields where you don’t need to necessarily go the academic route. You can start on the shop floor and work your way up,” she says.

There are also general misconceptions about the industry that she seeks to dispel: “I still hear a lot of silly stereotypes about what engineering is like. Some people still think of navy overalls and dirty jobs rather than the high end work that we actually do.”

Andrea also highly supports apprenticeships as a way to nurture the next generation of female leaders in the industry. 

She says, “I think apprenticeships are very important and the way we’ll continue to grow the percentage of women in the field. When I attend events like the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards, I see women winning those awards, including the Apprentice awards, and it’s great to see.”

Visit our Women in Manufacturing campaign page to find out more.

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